Frederick Douglass to James Miller McKim, September 5, 1844
FREDERICK DOUGLASS TO JAMES MILLER McKIM1James Miller McKim (1810–74) was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Dickinson College in 1828. After beginning the study of medicine, McKim decided to enter the Presbyterian ministry and attended both Princeton and Andover Theological seminaries. He was ordained and assigned his first parish in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. After reading William Lloyd Garrison’s Thoughts on African Colonization, McKim converted to the abolitionist cause. In 1836 he became a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society and an ardent supporter of Garrison, whom he followed after the 1840 abolitionist rupture. In that year he settled in Philadelphia, where he served as the editor of the Pennsylvania Freeman, the voice of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, and was active in the Underground Railroad. McKim continued as editor of the Pennsylvania Freeman until it merged with the National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1854. He welcomed the Civil War, promoting the use of black troops and supporting aid to southern freedmen in Port Royal, South Carolina, through his membership in the American Freedman’s Union Commission. William Still, The Underground Railroad (Philadelphia, 1872), 654–59; William Cohen, “James Miller McKim: Pennsylvania Abolitionist” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1968); ANB, 15:115–16.
[Chester County, Pa. 5 September 1844].
Though quite unaccustomed to write anything for the public eye, and in many instances quite unwilling to do so, in the resent case I cannot
content myself to take leave of you and the dear friends of the slave in this part of our anti-slavery vineyard, for home, without dropping you a very hasty, and of course very imperfect, sketch of the Anti-Slavery meetings recently held in Chester county, which, in company with Friend Remond, it was my pleasure to attend.2Douglass and Charles Lenox Remond attended the annual meeting of the Chester County Anti-Slavery Society, which was held in Marlborough on 27–28 August 1844. NASS, 22 August 1844; Lib., 30 August 1844.
The first of these was held in West Chester, on Thursday, 25th. In consequence of the Court House and churches of the village being closed against us,3Despite the signiﬁcant presence of Quakers in the Chester County region, numerous incidents of antiblack and antiabolitionist violence occurred in the 1840's. R. C. Smedley, History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania (Lancaster, Pa., 1883), 187–88. our friends there had provided to hold the meeting in a beautiful grove, less than a mile distant from the village. But the falling of a very heavy rain, a few hours before, rendered the woods exceedingly wet, and unfit for our purpose at the hour of meeting. Shut out from Church and from State, our last resort was to the market-house; it, fortunately for us and the slave, was doorless, and could not be shut. The day was extremely damp, and uncomfortably cool; owing to this—coupled with the disgraceful fact that the people of the town had sunken almost inextricably deep into the mire and Clay,4Henry Clay (1777–1852), a native Virginian, entered politics during the 1790s in his adopted state of Kentucky and quickly rose to national prominence. As a congressman, senator, secretary of state, founder of the Whig party, and perennial presidential candidate, Clay espoused broadly nationalistic programs designed to avoid sectional antagonism caused by the issue of slavery. He figured prominently in the debates that led to the passage of the Missouri Compromise, and he was a leading architect of the Compromise of 1850. His support of the American Colonization Society aroused the lasting hostility of Garrisonian abolitionists. In Congress, Clay vigorously opposed abolitionist petitions against slavery in the District of Columbia. Douglass and other abolitionists found him a particularly odious candidate because northern Whigs attempted to cast the slave-owning Clay as “anti-slavery in his feelings,” a stand that potentially undermined the Liberty party’s political base. Merrill D. Peterson, The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun (New York, 1987); Robert Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union (New York, 1991); Sewell, Ballots for Freedom, 109; DAB, 4:73–79. which in this county, and at the present time everywhere besets the feet of the unsuspecting—we had a very small meeting. Those that came gave very good attention, though I am satisfied that most present came from no higher motive than to gratify an idle curiosity. I am glad, however, they came, from whatever motive; I am willing to be regarded as a curiosity, if I may thereby aid on the high and holy cause of the slave’s emancipation.
Our meeting was very unsatisfactory to ourselves, though not entirely so to our few friends in that place, who are not the sort to be discouraged. They filled me with admiration, as I viewed them occupying their noble position; a few women, almost alone in a community of thousands, asserting truths and living out principles at once hated and feared by almost the entire community; and doing all this with a composure and serenity of soul which would well compare with the most experienced champion and standard bearer of our cause, Friend Garrison himself. Heaven bless them, and continue them strength to withstand all trials through which their principles may call them to pass. From West Chester we were taken by the slave’s friend, D. Kent,5Possibly Daniel Kent, Jr. (1803-81), the son of an Irish Quaker immigrant to Chester County, Pennsylvania. The younger Kent was active in the Underground Railroad. Smedley, Underground Railroad, 310, 401. on to the meeting of the Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society, held at Oxford, in Friends’ Meeting-house.6Douglass and Remond spoke at the Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society in Oxford, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, 24 August 1844. NASS, 22 August 1844. This Society is very appropriately named; it is certainly one of the most venerable and impressive anti-slavery bodies with which it has been my fortune to meet. It enrolls amongst its members the very salt of anti-slavery wisdom, firmness, and perseverance in Chester county. The names of the Coates,7Lindley Coates (1794–1856) was the principal figure in an extended family living throughout Lancaster and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania. The Coates family members were renowned for their dedication to abolitionism and to their assistance of fugitives on the Underground Railroad. A Quaker, Lindley Coates early embraced the position of immediate emancipation, joined the American Anti-Slavery Society, and helped to form the local Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society in the early 1830s. Elected to the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention of 1837, he worked aggressively, if unsuccessfully, to prevent the franchise from being limited to white men only. Following the abolitionist schism in 1840, Coates served brieﬂy as the president of the American Anti-Slavery Society until William Lloyd Garrison replaced him. Until his death in 1856, he was a central conductor in the extensive Underground Railroad that moved through Lancaster and Chester Counties. Lib., 27 June 1856; Charles D. Spotts, The Pilgrim’s Pathway: The Underground Railroad in Lancaster County (Lancaster, Pa., 1966), 30–32; Smedley, Underground Railroad, 84–89. Whitsons,8The family of Thomas Whitson (1796–1864) resided in Lancaster and Chester Counties and had been ardent supporters of abolitionism since the early 1830s. A Quaker, Thomas Whitson attended the inaugural meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia in December 1833 and stepped forward as the first to sign its Declaration of Principles. As a key agent of the Underground Railroad in Lancaster County, a region filled with southern sympathizers, he apparently moved hundreds of fugitives safely to freedom. Moses Whitson (1789–1853) of Chester County, an engineer, was also a fearless conductor who sometimes faced threats of barn-burning from his unsupportive neighbors. Samuel Whitson, of the same locale, was similarly active. All three men helped found the Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society. Many of the Whitson family employed blacks on their farms and suffered abuse from many of their neighbors for doing so. Smedley, Underground Railroad, 67–70, 94–99, 101–02; Spotts, Pilgrim’s Pathway, 29–30. Jacksons,9A number of Jacksons lived in Chester County and in neighboring counties. All were Quakers. William Jackson, a longtime conductor on the Underground Railroad, lived in London Grove. Isaac and Israel Jackson lived in nearby New Garden, where they provided refuge for fugitives. Thomas Jackson lived in northern Lancaster County and was an active abolitionist. James Jackson (1809–81), a farmer and Quaker minister from Bart Township, was charged with treason for his involvement in the Christiana uprising in 1851. W. A. Jackson was also involved in the uprising as legal representative for the defendants. John Franklin Meginness, Biographical Annals of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Chicago, 1903), 1112; Jonathan Katz, Resistance at Christiana: The Fugitive Slave Rebellion, Christiana, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1851—A Documentary Account (New York, 1974), 181; Smedley, Underground Railroad, 34, 74, 223, 250, 253, 314, 316, 321, 326. Prestons,10Prestons abounded in Chester County, especially in its southern tier. Quaker brothers Mahlon (1781–1855) and Amos (1786–1856) Preston farmed near West Grove. They had assisted fugitives from the early 1820s and were original members of the Clarkson Anti-lavery Society. Amos’s daughter, Ann Preston (1813–72), served as secretary of both the Clarkson Society and the Woman’s Temperance Convention of Chester County. She aided in the Christiana Rebellion by covertly transporting fugitives immediately after the incident in September 1851. Ann later went on to study medicine and to establish the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania at a time when the medical profession was dominated by men. J. Smith Futhey and Gilbert Cope, History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, with Genealogical and Biographical Sketches (Philadelphia, 1881), 427; Smedley, Underground Railroad, 34, 248, 268, 305–08; Katz, Resistance at Christiana, 251; Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 6 vols. (New York, 1888–89), 5:112; ANB, 17:843–45. Hambletons,11Numerous Hambletons lived in Chester County, and most supported abolitionism and the Underground Railroad. Thomas, Eli, and Samuel Hambleton lived in Penn Township and were active railroad conductors. They were founding members of the local Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society, and they purchased produce and goods made exclusively by free labor. Charles Hambleton was the secretary of the Clarkson Anti-Slavery Society in 1843. Smedley, Underground Railroad, 32, 82, 102, 134, 312. and others of the Society, seemed to
be anti-slavery watch-words wherever I went in the county. The attendance at the meeting was very large; many had to stand outside, not being able to gain admission into the house. The Society got through their business at an early hour, to give place to addresses of Friend Remond and myself upon the general subject of slavery and anti-slavery. Our remarks were listened to, both within and without the house, with a deep stillness, that indicated an absorbing interest in the subjects we were but feebly attempting to set forth. I took quite too large a part in the meeting myself, to give you a very minute account of it. Suffice it to say, that whatever of gloom was cast over my spirits by our meeting at West Chester, was completely dispelled by our meeting at Oxford. At this meeting, friend Remond and I parted; he, I believe, went to Kennett, and I to Fallowfield, being carried thither by our friend James Taylor,12From an early age, James N. Taylor (1813–?) was involved in the antislavery movement in Chester County. When Douglass spoke there in 1844, Taylor resided in nearby Marlborough. Renowned for his role as a conductor on the Underground Railroad, he played a key role in the Christiana resistance by hiding fugitives in his house before helping them ﬂee the state. Smedley, Underground Railroad, 247–48, 251; Katz, Resistance at Christiana, 251. in whom the hunted slave has often found a warm friend while groping his way in the dark from slavery to freedom. According to notice, our next meeting was held on Sunday afternoon at London Grove Meeting-house, out doors. This meeting was a most splendid demonstration. The day as fine, the heavens clear, the sun bright, the air salubrious, and the scenery by which we were surrounded extremely grand; all nature seemed redolent with anti-slavery truth.
By many of our anti-slavery friends in Chester county, London Grove, has long been considered as being the very dwelling place of Quaker pro-slavery in the county, and it is the settled opinion of many who have excellent facilities for understanding the views and feelings of voting Quakers in that Vicinity, that most of them will vote for Henry Clay, the slaveholder,13An allusion to the fact that Quaker meetings seek to reach consensus and eschew voting. In the political arena of the 1840s, most Quakers were affiliated with the Whig party. The voting record of Chester County indicated heavy support for Whig presidential candidate Henry Clay in the 1844 election. Jean R. Soderlund, Quakers and Slavery: A Divided Spirit (Princeton, N.J., 1985), 32–33; Richard J. Carwardine, Evangelicals and Politics in Antebellum America (New Haven, Conn., 1993), 90, 118, 127–28; Smedley, Underground Railroad, 250. (query do Friends bear a faithful testimony against slaveholding?) Owing to this opinion the abolitionists in the neighboring towns had long desired to have anti-slavery brought in direct contact with that community. Here was a fine opportunity, and they embraced it gladly; they came from ten, and I believe as far as fifteen miles around to gladden our hearts and cheer us on in the proclamation of Anti-Slavery truth. It was truly delightful, a short time before the commencement of the meeting, to look down the long roads in various directions, and see them almost literally alive with the gathering multitude. The old and young, the men and women on foot, on horseback and in wagons, were all pressing their way amid dust and din, towards the great Quaker meeting house, under the eaves of which, we had to hold our meeting, as it, like the strong hearts of its owners, stood locked and bolted against us. A very large part of the audience seemed to be such as had given no attention to the subject of slavery, and were there to gratify their curiosity, and I thought I discovered at the commencement of the
meeting very much to confirm the opinion that I stood in the midst of a pro-slavery neighborhood. I am glad, however, to be able to say, that before the meeting came to a close, a very different aspect was worn by the audience.
Friend Remond first addressed the assemblage. He stood upon a large horse block, and spoke for more than an hour, in a strain of stern rebuke. His text was before him, he did not stray from it, nor it from him. It stood there in the shape of a great stone Quaker Meeting House, bolted and barred to the slave; as cold and insensible to the claims of humanity, as Egg Rock seems to be to the surging billows of the Atlantic, when viewed from the banks of old Nahant14Nahant is a narrow peninsula that projects southward from Lynn into Massachusetts Bay. Thousands of locals, including Bostonians, spent their summers there in the mid-nineteenth century. Egg Rock, an uninhabited rock formation, lies off the northeastern shore of Nahant. Normally Egg Rock can be seen from the peninsula, rising from the waters of the bay, but during the ﬁercest storms, waves and spray cover the rock, obscuring it from view. J. Thomas and T. Baidwin, eds., Lippincott’s Pronouncing Gazetteer: A Complete Pronouncing Gazetteer, or Geographical Dictionary, of the World, 3 vols. (Philadelphia, 1855), 2: 1267; D. Hamilton Hurd, ed., History of Essex County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of the Many Pioneers and Prominent Men, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1888), 2:1431; Newhall, Essex Memorial, 141. after a long northwestern storm.
I followed Friend Remond, and spoke for the space for an hour and a half. He had left but little for me to do in the way of rebuke, and of consequence I pursued a somewhat different course, and I think reached another class of minds present, as necessary to the cause as any other. Our friends seemed highly gratified at the result of our meeting, and spoke of it as sufficient of itself to make up for all the lost time occasioned by the failure to get a connected series of meetings from the one at Norristown,15The annual meeting of the Eastern Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society convened at Norristown on Monday, 12 August 1844. Douglass, Charles Lenox Remond, and Wiliiam Lloyd Garrison attended. Lib., 9, 23 August 1844; NASS, 5 September 1844. to the time of our leaving for home.
Our next meeting was that of the Chester County Anti-Slavery Society. My time will not allow me to attempt a description of this meeting, suffice it to say it held two-days, and was interesting to the last.
I have formed a decidedly favorable opinion of Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery people by recent contact with them. They have not yet quite rid themselves of what seems to me to be prejudice against color; but they are advancing and I trust will soon free themselves from its last vestige. I shall be glad when the time shall come that I shall again meet yourself and the anti-slavery friends of Pennsylvania.
PLSr: PaF, 5 September 1844. Reprinted in Foner, Life and Writings, 5:3–6.